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"BUT THEY CAN'T BEAT US" BY RANDY ROBERTS
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The 1986 film "Hoosiers", based on the true story of tiny Milan High School's 1954 state championship, told the story of legendary Indiana basketball. Certainly, the state has great tradition, going back to John Wooden and Piggy Lambert, right on up to Rick Mount, Bobby Knight and Larry Bird. Now, Purdue University history professor Randy Roberts tells a little different story about Midwestern sports. The Crispus Attacks High School basketball team from Indianapolis, a team comprised of poor, urban black kids, overcame terrific obstacles to capture for coach Ray Crowe the 1955 and 1956 state titles.

Crowe's talented squad was led by Oscar Robertson, who would go on to a hall of Fame career with the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks. The "Big O" would also capture a Gold Medal at the Rome Olympics'. In '55, Crispus Attucks became the first all-black school to capture a state championship. In '56, they were the first to go undefeated.

Crispus Attucks "helped define and enshrine the Hoosiers' myth by being its negation," according to Roberts. This is an inspiring story of race, joy and achievement during a critical time in this nation's history. While Crispus Attucks was winning on the hardwood,  hard-fought civil rights were being won for black people in the Supreme Court (Brown vs. Board of Education). What is often forgotten is that many of the key battlegrounds of the civil rights era were not in the South, but in the North--that is, the Midwest.

Roberts' story of social upheaval, racism and the dawn of a new era in politics centers on a school that was built for blacks. Actually, Crispus Attucks was built so white students would not have to sit next to black students in the 1920s. The school first had to petition the Indiana High School Athletic Association just to compete in the state tournament.

Roberts' also tells how "The Big O" spurned Indiana U. because coach Branch McCracken was said to be a racist. Indiana native John Wooden tried to get him to U.C.L.A. (can you imagine that?), but Oscar envisioned a long bus ride (he was afraid of air planes) and chose Cincinnati instead.    

Roberts has written a number of sports history books. In "But They Can't Beat Us", he tells the story of Robertson, a shy kid who shined in athletics. He tells the story of Coach Crowe, who instilled his team with pride and discipline. Through hard work and talent, the Tigers' were able to forge one of the great stories in prep sports history. For fans of high school sports, and particularly Indiana basketball, "But They Can't Beat Us" is a must read.

 

 

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